Article 23: Catechism of the Catholic Church series


Paragraphs 166-169


For Catholic Spirit (Week of October 8, 2015 edition)


I Believe … We Believe

Father John G. Hillier


As a child, when I was learning to play my first musical instrument, I found a page from a discarded hymnal containing one line of lyrics with a series of musical notes above it. The lyrics read: “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”


As I played the notes again and again, first on my vintage wood recorder and then on my beginners clarinet, it was as if no other musical notes nor lyrics existed. Then I came up with the idea of tape-recording the musical accompaniment and then, using a second tape recorder, I sang the lyrics with my own recorded music playing in the background. The final product contained both the music that I played and the words that I sang. It was only then that I had something worthwhile to share with family and friends.


The Catechism outlines the tension between the “personal” act of faith and Church’s desire that one’s faith not become “isolated.” The project I chose to tackle as a child — to play a short musical score as the accompaniment for my own voice — was a personal act but certainly not isolated, even though I spent countless hours alone in my room preparing the final product.


Paragraph 166 teaches, “No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone.” Although faith is “the free response of the human person to the initiative of God”,” the believer has, nonetheless, “received faith from others and should hand it on to others” (ccc 166).


What was not so apparent to me so many years ago when I first came across the discarded page from the old hymnal was that it contained the responsorial psalm refrain for the Solemn Feast of Corpus Christi, (the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ). By singing the refrain and recording it with musical accompaniment for family members to hear I was in fact doing what this section of the Catechism purports which is taking what I had received and sharing it with others.


The gift of faith, the content of which is professed in the Apostles and Nicene Creed(s), is received through the Church. “What do you ask of God’s Church?” is the question asked of the Godparent (on behalf of the infant) or the Catechumen if the candidate for the Sacrament of Baptism is an adult. The response is: “Faith.” (See: ccc 168).


In our previous article, we discussed the “characteristics of faith,” explaining that faith is first offered through the gracious gift of God. Only after we come to believe can we seek to understand the content of our faith. Thus, the motto of the 12th century Doctor of the Church, Saint Anselm, “faith seeking understanding” (ccc 158).


Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.” Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith (ccc 169).


There exists, therefore, an ongoing tension between whether the content of our faith is what “we believe” as a community of faith or what “I believe” as an individual. Recall, our profession of faith, also known as the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, that for years began at Sunday Mass with the opening words: “We believe in One God …” With the new Roman Missal authorized for public use in 2011, the current version at Sunday Mass now begins with the opening words: “I believe in One God …” The truth is that what “we believe” is identical to what “I believe” and vice-versa. This is why the Church could easily switch the opening words of the profession of faith.


The Catechism offers the following explanation: “I believe” (Apostles’ Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism. “We believe” (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. “I believe” is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both “I believe” and “We believe”. (ccc 167).


Faith is the engine that sustains us. For two thousand years the Church has taken on projects that others have neglected. We have touched the flesh of Jesus in our outreach to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unborn, the unwanted. We are driven by our deep faith that God blesses the struggles and hopes that have become ours. This is the reason “we believe.” This is the reason “I believe.”


No wonder that the Catechism teaches, “the believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others” (ccc 166). It continues, “our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith” (ccc 166).


The faith that Jesus awakens in us always translates into action. Faith ought to become hope-filled and our hope ought to become loving.